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An errant US drone strike killed 10 members of their family. They're still awaiting compensation

David Pierson and Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

KABUL, Afghanistan — Emal Ahmadi and his older brother Zemari Ahmadi were inseparable. They’d sit on the plush red and tan rug in their shared living room and eat meals together, discussing family, work and the distressing changes shaking their country as U.S. troops began evacuating and the Taliban rode to power.

“He was a good man,” said Emal, cracking a brief smile while recounting how Zemari loved to sing popular Afghan songs at parties.

As an aid worker for a California-based charity, the 40-year-old Zemari was also the family’s breadwinner. When he was errantly killed along with nine other family members in a U.S. drone strike in August, Emal took some solace in comments by American officials that they were considering paying compensation.

But six weeks after he lost his brother, Emal said he has yet to be contacted by the U.S. government to apologize or to offer help. A jobless father in a battered land — his 3-year-old daughter Malika was killed in the blast — Emal is struggling to provide for an extended family of 15.

“Why are they not contacting us? Why are they not reaching out to us? We lost 10 members of our family. It’s very difficult for me, for our family, for all of us,” said Emal, 32, standing in front of the charred remains of a car in the family compound near Kabul that the U.S. military mistook for a vehicle used by an offshoot of Islamic State, known as ISIS in Khorasan, or ISIS-K.

“I’m so angry, I’m so sad,” added Emal, who is also requesting the U.S. help his family relocate to safety.


Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Afghanistan operation, offered “sincere and profound condolences” to Emal’s family in a news conference on Sept. 17. He said the U.S. was exploring the possibility of an ex gratia payment, but suggested it was difficult to reach people in Afghanistan now that American troops had left.

Central Command did not respond to a request for comment and an update on plans to pay Emal’s family.

McKenzie said the strike was launched because the military believed there was an imminent terrorist threat to U.S. forces at Kabul’s airport, where tens of thousands of people were fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in a chaotic and deadly evacuation. Days earlier, 13 U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing outside the airport.

Zemari, who worked for 16 years for the Pasadena-based nonprofit Nutrition & Education International was killed when a drone fired a Hellfire missile at his white Toyota Corolla. Seven children were among the victims. McKenzie called the attack a “tragic mistake.” It was a horrific final act, and its chaotic nature seemed to distill two decades of America’s failure to build a stable Afghan government.


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